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Preserving and Displaying the “Bat-Wing Ship” – March Update

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Horetn

Close up of the acrylic canopy being analyzed by our conservation staff and Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute (MCI).

Waiting for an update on the conservation and restoration of our Horten H IX V3 “Bat-wing Ship?” Here’s the latest! Our conservation staff, in collaboration with curator Russ Lee, is working with the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) to figure out the materials and technologies used to craft the Horten H IX V3.  For example, the transparent canopy was analyzed with a portable Raman spectrometer and determined to be a polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) plastic.  PMMA was developed by Rohm and Haas in the mid-1930s in Germany and the United States, and the material is reputed to have been incorporated quickly into aircraft canopies, gun turrets, and transparent noses. It is lightweight, impact resistant, relatively easy to form, and transmits light even better than glass.  In this instance, identifying the canopy as PMMA confirms what we already expected from our research of trade literature from that period.  It also shows how studying our collection, visually and with analytical tools like MCIs Raman spectrometer, provides direct physical evidence of an aircraft’s manufacture, which enriches our understanding of the history of early plastics in aviation.

Raman spectroscopy identifies materials by shining a laser beam at a surface and measuring the energy distribution of inelastically scattered light.  It is potentially non-destructive and does not require removing a sample from the aircraft.  MCIs spectrometer weighs only 6 lbs. and fits in a convenient “carry on” sized suitcase for trips out to the Udvar-Hazy Center and other Smithsonian museums.

Lauren Horelick is a objects conservator in the Collections Department of the National Air and Space Museum. Odile Madden is a research scientist at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute.

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13 thoughts on “Preserving and Displaying the “Bat-Wing Ship” – March Update

  1. Thanks for the update. It’s good to know that you are moving on to looking at things other than the fuselage in general. Does that mean that you’ve reached a conclusion or conclusions about the overall state of the structure, it’s preservation and future display?
    I note you said in your July 2012 posting that “Summer interns working with scientists at the Museum Conservation Institute are contributing to the materials identification effort. We will blog the results at the end of this summer.” I never found that update. Did it get posted?
    Has a decision been made on whether the wings will be mated to the fuselage? Looking again at some of the photo’s I’m inclined to think that it would be interesting to see inside the structure of the wing, if it’s not mated.
    On the point of displaying the exhibit, I’ve previously mailed to say that it would be good to know that it’s displayed so that visitors can walk all the way around it, in order to really appreciate the HOIX’s unique form. Can that be considered? I’ve been to so many aviation museums here in the UK where, due to lack of space, important exhibits are placed side by side with no access around the side and back. It would be a tragedy if this happened in the case of the HOIX and it were ‘crammed into a corner’ so to speak. What are the museum’s thoughts on this I wander? Do you feel that it would be better appreciated with access all round?
    For all HOIX nerds out there; if you’ve not seen it before, you may be interested to know that National Geographic made a programme about the building of the HOIX replica about 3 years ago. I was delighted to find it, in full, on YouTube recently. If you’ve not already seen it, it’s available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3UFvYQoiTI Putting aside its histrionics and fantasising, it’s a really good watch and well worth looking up.
    Thanks for all the good work you’re doing there.

  2. Good update. Perhaps Rohm and Haas could be a contractor if chosen to fabricate new plastic components for the Horten. After all, we are recreating an original Horten aircraft back to display form.

    Why not add a camera to the restoration area by way of a camera hookup on the Space Shuttle area? That way, all can see daily progress being made on restorations.

  3. great to see the horton 229 will under go restoration but is there a date for the ta 152 or the ju 388 to under go the same restoration process

  4. Mr. Hawthorne, the Horten H IX V3 “bat wing ship” described in the blog is not the same one on view at Chino for many years . That airplane was a motorless glider designed by Reimar Horten and designated the ‘H IV a.’

  5. Russell

    Hi. I’m just reading Simon’s comment. I’m amazed that you apparently also have a TA152 and a JU388 there and that, like the HOIX, they’re still not on display! I’ve just done a search on these two and get “This object is not on display at the National Air and Space Museum. It is either on loan or in storage” So that’s not a denial. And is that the one and only BV155 that came up too, for some reason, when I search for the TA152? Do you have that?

    What other completely unique artefacts from this era are buried in the vaults of the Smithsonian? How much of Operation Lusty’s efforts are still hidden away from public view? Is there a button on the Smithsonian’s home page that I can press that says “List of WWII era Axis kit still hidden away from public view that you’d all really like to see restored and displayed?” If so I like to press it and drool and pine over its incarceration all at the same time.

    Isn’t it about time your management opened up its store rooms and told us what you’ve got there? And perhaps, if the Smithsonian is holding a lot of WWII era aircraft in storage after all this time, it needs a policy decision that nearly 70 years is long enough to keep unique aviation artefacts (needlessly?) in storage?

    Does someone need to allocate more funding to the restoration facility, or is it just a blind spot that the organisation has? I’m reminded of a comment I made some years ago regarding the failure to display the HOIX. I commented then that I was struck by an apparent parochialism in the displays policy of the Smithsonian. If it is the case that planes such as the TA152 etc, which represent the height of piston-engined aviation development, are still held in storage by the museum I can only say that the Smithsonian is, in my opinion, ‘missing a trick’ in failing to fulfil its potential as a repository for the most internationally important exhibits from this era. I would think many would support this view. Is the museum acting as a national or an international place of excellence and source of knowledge?

    And in case anyone is thinking that prototypes like the BV155 and Horton IX are just one offs and therefore not of interest to the public, I’d suggest that you look at the visitor numbers for the museum at RAF Cosford here in the UK. They have a large amount of space dedicated to displays of prototypes, including a lot of post-WWII early British jet technology, e.g. the TSR-2 (beautiful!). It has large visitor numbers. I’ve been 3 times myself and don’t tire of it.

    Can the curators of the Smithsonian supply a list of what you have in storage from this era? i.e. post WWII axis aircraft. It would be very interesting for the public to see a definitive list, I would think. And if there is a list to be drawn up, it would be good to have a conversation about it. Can you pass my comments on? I’d be interested in your feedback.

    I’d also be interested in the thoughts of any other readers of this blog.
    Thanks

  6. Mr. Beesley,

    Thank you for your comments and questions. I am responding to your message because the curator of German World War II aircraft, Evelyn Zegenhagen, is on travel. All of the 370 aircraft in the National Air and Space Museum’s collection are listed here for all to view, along with brief remarks about their status and condition: http://airandspace.si.edu/collections/group/aircraft?start=0&rows=12&view=grid&q=junkers.

    Examining the list one finds that every historic category contains significant and interesting aircraft not yet treated and displayed including aircraft manufactured in the USA, Britain, Russia, Japan, and other countries.

    Museum staff are most eager to see all the artifacts on display, yet we must balance this desire with the requirement to treat each object with the utmost care because we believe that our visitors expect nothing less than the best and most thoughtful treatment that we can provide.

    Whether we restore or preserve an artifact, the treatment process takes considerable time and effort and often requires years of careful work. Nonetheless, since the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened in 2003, we have placed on display 169 aircraft in addition to the 70 aircraft displayed downtown in the Museum in Washington, DC. The Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar opened at the Udvar-Hazy Center in 2010. Displayed there now are an additional four aircraft including the German Lippisch DM-1 delta wing glider.

    There is a growing number of German World War II airplanes displayed at Udvar-Hazy Center including the Arado Ar 234, Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F, Dornier Do 335 A-0, Nagler-Rolz NR 54 V2, Grunau Baby II B-2, Horten H III h, H III f, and H VI V2, and by early next year, the Heinkel He 219 A-2. The Ta 152 is among a group of aircraft now under consideration for treatment beginning next year.

    - Russ Lee, curator, Aeronautics Department

  7. Just a question. We have a SR-71 blackbird, yet no D-21 drone as do some other museums. Today I checked AMARC’s website and they have the November 2013 of aircraft entering and aircraft departing. I saw that about 7 D-21 drones that had been left there in 1977 on the departure list. Why don’t Udvar Hazy snare one of the D-21′s so that it can be cleaned up and displayed next to our SR-71?

    Failing that, I heard that Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB is deaccessioning some aircraft including their own D-21 drone which has its own trailer and is in much better shape than those drones at Davis Monthan. Why don’t get get their drone for immediate display next to our blackbird?

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